NEW YORK, United States, Monday September 25, 2017 – Pleading with all members of the United Nations General Assembly – large and small, rich and poor – to come together to save the planet, the Prime Minister of Dominica, where the landscape, ravaged by back-to-back hurricanes “resembles a war zone” on the heels of Hurricane Maria last week, said his and other islands in the Caribbean need help now to fight a war that is not of their own creation.
Just two years after tropical storm Erika had ripped through the region, leaving death and destruction in his country, Roosevelt Skerrit said Dominica and others in the region had been ravaged by perhaps the worst hurricane season on record, with Irma and Maria leaving loss of lives and livelihoods, and as yet untold damage.
“I come to you straight from the front line of the war on climate change,” he said in an emotional address to the General Assembly’s annual general debate on Saturday when he reported on “desolation beyond imagination” in his storm-battered country where at least 15 have died and countless others are missing, homes have been flattened, buildings left roofless, water pipes smashed, road infrastructure destroyed, crops uprooted, the hospital left without power, schools disappeared beneath the rubble, and “where there was green, there is now only dust and dirt”.
“To deny climate change is to procrastinate while the earth sinks; it is to deny a truth we have just lived! It is to mock thousands of my compatriots who…without a roof over their heads, will watch the night descend on Dominica in fear of sudden mud slides and what the next hurricane may bring.
“We as a country and as a region did not start this war against nature! We did not provoke it! The war has come to us!”
Skerrit said warmer air and sea temperatures have permanently altered the climate between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. He noted that heat is the fuel that takes ordinary storms – “storms we could normally master in our sleep – and supercharges them into a devastating force”.
The most unfortunate reality, he said, is that there is little time left to reverse damages and rectify this trajectory.
“We need action and we need it now,” he said. “While the big countries talk, the small island nations suffer…We in the Caribbean do not produce greenhouse gases or sulphate aerosols. We do not pollute or overfish our oceans. We have made no contribution to global warming that can move the needle. But yet, we are among the main victims on the frontline.”
“The nation of Dominica has come to declare an international humanitarian emergency – one that is centred in Dominica but also encompasses many of our neighbours including our sister isle, Antigua, which had to evacuate its citizens from Barbuda,” he said, referring to the declaration of Barbuda as uninhabitable following the battering by Hurricane Irma earlier this month.
Identifying his Eastern Caribbean nation’s specific needs on the heels of Maria’s destruction, Skerrit said water, food and emergency shelter are priority but the island also needs roads, bridges and new infrastructure, as well as capabilities of delivery.
He therefore called on those nations with substantial military capacities “to lend us the rescue and rebuilding equipment that may be standing idle waiting for a war”.
“Let Dominica today be that war, because currently our landscape reflects a zone of war. The battle we face has brought us to our knees. We need resources now, so that we may move with purpose to the task of rebuilding our beautiful island home. We will need to rebuild homes and villages. We will need to rebuild communities, schools, roads and bridges. We will need to rebuild a country, and we cannot do it alone.”
The Dominican leader said the time has come for the international community to make a stand and to decide whether it will be shoulder to shoulder with those suffering the ravages of climate change worldwide.
“…Whether we can mitigate the consequences of unprecedented increases in sea temperatures and levels; whether to help us rebuild sustainable livelihoods; or whether the international community will merely show some pity now, and then flee, relieved to know that this time it was not you. We, the small nations of the world, need to know who our real friends are, who have our backs.”
In an equally impassioned address, The Bahamas’ Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield expressed his concern about the effects of environmental degradation and climate change which are threatening the survivability of small island developing states.
“With what we have witnessed just recently with the passage of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and now Maria, I cannot underscore sufficiently the importance the Bahamas attaches to combating climate change, and the preservation and protection of the environment,” he said.
Stressing that “climate change is global,” he emphasized the damage that hurricane Irma had in the Bahamian archipelago. While the Bahamas had not suffered a direct hit, the southern islands experienced serious damage. Additionally, tornadoes inflicted considerable damage on the northern islands of Bimini and Grand Bahama.
The Minister spoke about the administration’s intention to create the first fully green island in the region, out of the destruction of Ragged Island which became uninhabitable.
“For the first time in its history, The Bahamas evacuated whole communities to safe quadrants ahead of Hurricane Irma. What’s next: wholesale evacuation of the entire Caribbean?” he asked, calling on the international community to act fast, and in a coordinated way.
Henfield also highlighted the “need to re-evaluate the measurements used to determine economic well-being” in the country, to allow them to receive development assistant.